Vail Jazz Party returns for Labor Day weekend

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Dance party in the Jazz Tent led by Wycliffe Gordon’s Nu Funk Dance Machine Party.
Jack Affleck

The Vail Jazz Party, a five-day event that wraps up the annual Vail Jazz Festival, begins Thursday night at the Jazz Tent in Lionshead Village. The Jazz Party will present more than 35 hours of live musical performances at various locations during Labor Day, featuring dozens of the world’s best jazz artists performing together in collaborative shows.

The Vail Jazz Party is the brainchild of Vail Jazz founder Howard Stone and has been the grand finale of the summer festival since 1995. What is unique about this event, beyond the sheer scale of the performance is that the participating musicians are mixed. in multi-artist jam sessions with people they’ve never played with before. This creates unique musical arrangements that blend sound and talent from all corners of the jazz scene to produce something truly unique.

Stone decides which artists to mix in different arrangements, and he likens the process to that of a chef experimenting with ingredients to produce new flavors.



“These are some of the greatest jazz musicians of our time, and they don’t really have the opportunity to play with their colleagues, so what happens is I’m kind of like a conductor, and I say, ‘Why don’t we try a little more of this seasoning, or a little more of this ingredient?’ Stone said. “I’m going to say to myself: these two people, who have never played together, will make good music together. So I go and I present them musically to Vail.

In previous Jazz Party performances, a few of these musical couples have been so successful that the artists have recorded an album of their work together. Attend one of the sessions and you are guaranteed to experience a sound that has never been heard before.



Stone’s dedication to music has earned him the respect and trust of the world-class artists he invites to play, many of whom return year after year to participate in the carefully constructed medley of the Vail Jazz Party. Adrian Cunningham, an award-winning multi-instrumentalist and singer from Sydney, Australia, has been playing in the Jazz Party for four years.

“Howard is the godfather of Vail Jazz,” Cunningham said. “He’s someone who not only knows the logistics, but who really knows and understands the music.”

Members of each arrangement have the opportunity to choose their own sets, and they rehearse together once before taking the stage together in front of a live audience.

Impromptu jazz show on Place Vail.
Jack Affleck

“I don’t have to be limited with the songs I choose because I know they’re all going to be amazing musicians,” Cunningham said. “It’s great because you got a little out of your comfort zone with musicians you might not know or repertoire you might not know too well, but the vibe is so good and the musicality is so strong it’s always really rewarding to live in. For me, it’s probably the best level of musicianship of the festival tours I do in the US.

Tickets for the Vail Jazz Party are sold for individual sessions, and there is also an unlimited performance pass that allows early entry to all music sessions throughout the weekend. The program is divided into afternoon and evening sessions, each comprising three separate performances.

The lineup includes established groups such as the Joel Frahm Quartet, the Jeff Hamilton Trio and the Emmet Cohen Trio, new artist combinations designed by Stone that mix soloists with the band’s performers, and a variety of special performances.

Special shows include a funk performance on Friday afternoon, a Saturday night tribute to Louis Armstrong and the music of New Orleans, a Sunday morning gospel prayer show led by singer Niki Haris, a piano duo and a centennial tribute to Charlie Parker, Dave Brubeck and Clark Terry on Monday afternoon.

Among these established jazz musicians will be the members of the Vail Jazz Workshop, 12 gifted high school students from across the country who have been selected to study for 10 days at Vail under the tutelage of the distinguished faculty members of the Vail Jazz Workshop.

Multi-instrumentalist Adrian Cunningham is one of the many world-class artists who return year after year to perform at the Vail Jazz Party.
Steven pope

Thursday’s opening night is the highlight of student time at Vail. The students will perform at 6 p.m., followed by a performance by the workshop alumni and end with a performance by the professors themselves.

“You can literally see the progression from the very beginning of someone’s jazz career, to the alumni who are there in the heart and flesh of their careers, and then the instructors, many of whom are nominated artists. at the Grammys touring the nation, take the stage and they’ll blow your mind, ”said Vail Jazz Executive Director Amanda Blevins.

The six alumni of the workshop will perform once again in a special Sunday evening session called “Side by Side,” where they will perform alongside faculty members they have already learned from.

“Last year was the 25th anniversary of our workshop, and we didn’t really have a chance to celebrate it, so I want to pay tribute to the faculty,” Stone said. “I want to put these people side by side, because they’re like their children, and they’ve had such an impact on their lives that they should all be on stage at the same time.”

Students will also be invited to attend the late night jam sessions, a purely improvised performance that will take place each evening at 10:30 p.m. from Friday to Sunday.

“For a 15 year old kid who is a trombone now playing in a jam session with Wycliffe Gordon, who is perhaps the greatest jazz trombonist alive, and they play in front of the audience and it’s a total jam – that’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, ”said Stone.

Late night jam with Niki Haris, a favorite of the Vail Jazz Party.
Jack Affleck

The Vail Jazz Party couldn’t take place last year due to the pandemic, and it promises to have a special vibe, with old friends getting together and artists hooking up and creating together after working out. alone for so long.

“It’s going to be the first time I’ve seen so many of these guys in two years, so it’s going to be a really amazing reunion, and with the community as well,” Cunningham said. “Vail is such a great community of people. They’re really hip, they love music, and you’re all together in this little mountain town, so it’s a hit, it’s a party.

For Stone, the ability for artists and community members to hang out and take the time to get to know each other is one of the most special things about the Vail Jazz Party, and he’s thrilled to bring people together to share the love of jazz. one more time.

“There’s something going on in Vail and I don’t think it’s happening in a lot of other places,” Stone said. “Because it’s relatively small and we keep it that way, there’s a feeling of becoming a family and there’s a palpable feeling of love and respect. If you talk to any of the artists, what they’ll tell you about Vail is that they’re a well-informed audience, that they’re treated with great respect, and the hook is just fantastic. .

To learn more about the Vail Jazz Party and to purchase tickets for the sessions, visit vailjazz.org.

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